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New Northern 4A awaits Tigers as season opens

by Joey Crandall

For the second time in three years, the Northern 4A region of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association has undergone a bit of a facelift.

And, for the second time in three years, the changes will set up Douglas and Carson in heavily-competitive leagues across the board.

In 2008, the Northern 4A divided the High Desert and Sierra leagues into geographical groupings, essentially pushing all of the southern-most schools into the Sierra while the schools further North on the map went into the High Desert.

The weight of the regional power went to the High Desert in football, girls’ basketball and softball while the Sierra took the overall advantage in soccer, volleyball, baseball and wrestling.

Last Spring, the NIAA announced realignment across all classes that would drop South Tahoe, Elko and Fallon to the 3A in all sports while Wooster would play as an independent in football and Hug would remain a non-participant in baseball.

The result, in most sports, doesn’t change the competitive balance. However, several sports will see a drastic increase in the overall difficulty of the schedule as the larger Northern Nevada schools settle into the new 12-team division.

Here is a rundown of the major changes for the fall sports heading into the year:

FOOTBALL

Perhaps no sport will be more changed, or the balance of power more spread out, than in Northern 4A football this year.

The four departing teams (Fallon, Elko, Wooster and South Tahoe) went a combined 15-60 over the past two seasons while none of the four have posted a winning record in at least the past four years.

None have made the playoffs in the last six years and the last time any of the four, outside of Wooster, won a league or division title was in 1991 (South Tahoe).

The High Desert and the Sierra leagues essentially become a thing of the past as all 11 teams will play in the Northern 4A league for eight spots in the playoffs.

Every remaining team in the league has made a playoff appearance in the last two years and seven of the 11 have won a league title in the last five years. Six of the 11 have won a regional crown in the last eight years.

Needless to say, parity is the word.

“You’re going to be challenged every week,” Douglas coach Mike Rippee said. “There’s not a week that will go by that won’t be absolutely crucial to your overall success during the season.

“You never want your kids looking ahead, but you have to be honest, when it came to a South Tahoe or a Wooster on the schedule and you had a Carson or a McQueen the following week, the kids would do it anyway.

“There were just teams in this league that could not compete. You knew going in that there would be an opportunity to rest some kids or if you had kids hurt, it wasn’t a bad time to get well as a team.

“You have to give credit to teams like Fallon, South Tahoe and Wooster. They showed prepared and ready to play every time and they played hard. They just couldn’t hang in there. Those were probably going to be wins. It wasn’t always that way, but it’s how it became.

“There is no more of that now. The depth of your roster and injuries you face will play a huge role in terms of who advances in the playoffs. It is really anyone’s crown to win. Everyone is good. Everyone is competitive.”

The realignment does, at least for the time being, bring and end to several long-running rivalries for the Douglas football team.

Douglas first met up with Fallon in 1923 and holds a 24-22-1 lead in the series, although the Tigers have won the last 14 meetings. Douglas owns a 20-14 lead in the South Tahoe series, having won the last nine meetings. The two teams first met in 1956. Tigers first played Elko in 1948 and won the last nine games against Wooster after winning only one out of the previous 16.

VOLLEYBALL

Volleyball, as with every other team sport except for baseball, kept the two-league system with the High Desert and Sierra each keeping their remaining six-team groupings.

The major change, as with the other team sports, is in the scheduling. Teams will play each team within the league twice (home and away) and each team from the other league once (site rotated yearly). The catch is that volleyball, soccer, basketball and softball have adopted the pro sports model to standings in that every league and crossover game counts toward determining who goes to the playoffs. In the past, only league games have counted, much like the college conference model.

With every game counting, the stakes are higher.

“Our side (the Sierra) has been the more competitive side since the first realignment,” Douglas coach Suzi Townsell said. “We got Manogue, Galena and Fallon out of the deal and kept tough games like Damonte and Carson. Now all we lose is Fallon and South Tahoe and the crossover games all count.

“Every night is going to be a battle. There will be no time off. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a challenge and things will be more interesting.

SOCCER

The formatting will be the same as volleyball, but the competitive balance, particularly on the boys’ side, will be among the most interesting cases to watch this fall.

Longtime juggernaut South Tahoe is the biggest loss, both on the boys’ and girls’ side, but the boys’ Sierra League still has perennial regional title contenders Carson, Galena, Douglas and Wooster in the mix, not to mention Manogue, which captured the regional title with a senior-laden squad last year.

Crossover games against the High Desert League, which has only captured a handful of playoff wins in the past five years and has not won a regional title in at least eight years, will be dangerous considering at least one powerhouse Sierra League team will be left out of the playoffs.

“It’s a real tough league to start with, but then you have games against tough teams like Reno, Spanish Springs, Reed and Hug that will count toward the standings,” Douglas coach Milko Vasquez said. “It will be very interesting to see how it plays out. We’ve got the perennial contenders in our league but Damonte Ranch is always getting better and we tend to have a tough time with them. It will be a very competitive league.

“The league may be smaller, and we lose some very good teams, but every game becomes more meaningful under this model. You’re fighting for your life pretty much every night out, and if a team can’t grasp that from the start, they are going to have a very short season. You can’t afford to be complacent.”